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12/30 Big Ten Preview: Northwestern at Michigan State

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Minnesota Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s only one game on the Big Ten slate for Friday but it’s poised to be a barn burner. Coming off a spirited 75-74 overtime win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Tuesday, the Michigan State Spartans are looking to add another significant Miles Bridges-less win to their resume as the 12-2 Northwestern Wildcats head to East Lansing.

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-Northwestern at Michigan State

  • Time/TV: 6:00 PM ET- BTN
  • Vegas Spread: Michigan State (-2)

A 75-74 win over Minnesota won’t grab the attention of the sporting world. But for the Michigan State Spartans, that hard fought overtime thriller was exactly what the doctor ordered. The Spartans have been searching for an identity as freshman star Miles Bridges continues to sit out with a high left ankle sprain. Trailing 39-26 at halftime, Tom Izzo’s squad was in panic mode. But a grinding, old school Big Ten basketball battle broke out in the second half and the Spartans pulled out the win on the backs of outstanding performances from Nick Ward, Tum Tum Nairn and Alvin Ellis.

Friday’s game with Northwestern could be another statement victory for the Spartans. The Wildcats look poised to make their first ever NCAA tournament appearance in March. At 12-2, the Wildcats are riding a nine-game winning streak into East Lansing. And Northwestern isn’t simply a bubble team. This is a legitimate upper-tier Big Ten team that pushed No. 13 Butler to the brink in a 70-68 loss at Hinkle and fell to Notre Dame in a 70-66 slugfest on a neutral court.

Northwestern’s junior guard Scottie Lindsey might be one of the Big Ten’s most improved players. The Wildcats wing combo of Lindsey and Vic Law has been one of the nation’s top duos, with Lindsey averaging 16.1 points on 46 per cent shooting while Law has averaged 13.6 points per game. Bryant McIntosh has proven himself a solid starting point guard for Northwestern despite his struggles shooting the ball from distance.

The Wildcats will need to focus much of their energy on the blocks as Nick Ward has established himself as a dominant scorer down low. Ward followed up a 25 point, nine rebound performance against Oakland with 22 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Minnesota. The Spartan big man has proven to be a nearly unstoppable force and shutting him down will be a challenge the Wildcats haven’t seen yet.

The Spartans are high off their win over Minnesota and the Wildcats are on the verge of a historic program breakthrough. What materializes on Friday night at the Breslin Center will be must watch television. Without Miles Bridges the Wildcats are the better team. With a more disciplined offense than Minnesota’s, the Spartans will need Nick Ward to continue to dominate while surrounding him with scoring options if they are to improve to 2-0 in Big Ten play.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Northwestern